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In September nutrient-based standards - already operating in primary schools- will be extended to all secondary school food. The aim is to continue the improvement in our children's diets started by Jamie Oliver five years ago, by ensuring school menus contain a prescribed balance of vitamins, minerals and energy sources. However, the Local Authority Caterers Association, who provide 90 per cent of the meals served in schools, fear it is overcomplicated and will create meals so unappealing that they will drive even more secondary school pupils out of the school gates and into the chippy.
Sheila Dillon joins delegates at the LACA summit to hear both sides of the argument. Previous Chair of LACA Pat Fellows puts the case against the nutrient standards. Joe Harvey, Director of the Health Education Trust and Chair of the Caroline Walker Trust (the body which devised the guidelines on which the nutrient standards are based) defends this attempt to improve children's diets.
Professor Jack Winkler and Sarah Sinclair, of the Nutrition Unit at London's Metropolitan University, recently undertook what appears to be the only independent research ever done in Britain on what school children eat outside the school gates ('fringe eating'), where children graze freely on chips, fizzy drinks and sweets. Sheila and Jack visit a north London high street to observe the fringe and find out what children don't like about school dinners - not, it turns out, the food, but the dining areas, the queues, or the lack of freedom.
Professor Winkler provides examples of successful schemes to provide healthier school fringe food. Eileen Steinbock, Head Nutritionist for Brakes, a catering company who supply restaurants and schools with meals and ingredients, suggests making the types of food children want, but with good ingredients.
Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust, set up by the government in 2005 to promote the education and health of children by improving the quality of food in schools, and the body charged with implementing the new school meal standards, defends the nutrient standards.
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